For many who’ve not visited Scotland, this is a country of tartan, castles, glens and not much else. It is an image that has brought millions of visitors for decades, turning tourism into one of our biggest earners, but obscured the fact that this is a modern nation with vibrant life sciences, finance, electronics and other cutting-edge industries.
So while it might be viewed from overseas as a nice place for a trip, it may not be seen as an obvious place to invest in or move to. Scotland’s ageing population means it needs immigrants, who have a greater than average amount of ‘get-up-and-go’ for obvious reasons, to help grow our economy, so changing the rest of the world’s impression is important – all the more so given the anti-immigrant flavour of the Brexit campaign.
The Scottish Government and other agencies involved in the Scotland is Now campaign – the biggest ever campaign to sell Scotland to the world – should therefore be applauded for their co-ordinated approach. The slogan sounds a bit meaningless – what place isn’t “now”? – but slogans often do. This seems designed to say “Scotland isn’t yesterday, the land of castles and claymores that you think it is”.
Instead, it’s a country that gives out baby boxes, which “builds bridges” – not walls like that Donald Trump – and campaigns for LGBTI rights. It almost sounds Scandinavian. The website’s “our people” section does get a bit carried away. “The Scots love people,” it says, adding that do almost anything and “you’ll be met with a smiling face and a friendly ‘Let me help’ …” Steady on, Scots aren’t all angels and this isn’t heaven on Earth, not yet anyway.
It was a better idea to enlist the help of Dured Alhalabe, a refugee who lives in Scotland after fleeing the carnage of Syria. “When I first arrived in Scotland I was afraid because it’s a new country and it’s very different from Syria, but all those worries disappeared as I started to meet people. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and it made me feel like I was in my own country and I was really happy.” If we want to attract immigrants, there is no one more credible than someone who has already arrived.
It will be difficult to tell if the campaign is a success. Tourist numbers may go up, but the burgeoning middle-classes of countries like India and China mean this is likely to happen anyway. And immigration is affected by a host of factors. The true test will be whether what people first think when they hear the word ‘Scotland’ actually changes and that could take a generation.